A bill introduced in the U.S. House Monday night seeks to address restaurant staffing challenges by creating a program of non-immigrant three-year visas for workers.
The National Restaurant Association on Tuesday applauded HB 7239, which would create an Essential Workers for Economic Advancement program, the group said.
“There is no silver bullet to solving the industry’s recruitment challenge, but this program creates one opportunity to address the issue,” said Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of public affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based National Restaurant Association.
“The overlapping blows of the pandemic and now an inflationary economy are limiting industry operations,” Kennedy noted. “For restaurants to fully recover and grow, we have to be open at full capacity — and to do that we have to continue to grow our workforce. This program is a win-win for employers in desperate need of employees and individuals seeking training and opportunity.”
The Essential Workers for Economic Advancement (EWEA) program, created withing the Essential Workers for Economic Advancement Act, is intended for small businesses in industries with comparatively low sales per employee. It would be available for non-agricultural jobs with lower education thresholds that have been unfilled for extended periods of time.
The EWEA would initially be available for up to 65,000 workers. After the first year, the number of workers would be determined by market-based need. The number of workers in the program could not exceed 85,000.
Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-PA), a bill sponsor, said, “The Essential Workers for Economic Advancement Act addresses a pressing problem for a host of industries that is stalling economic growth — a chronic worker shortage. Restaurants are vital drivers in every community, so I appreciate the on-going input and support of the National Restaurant Association in bringing this legislation to introduction.”
Kennedy added: “We look forward to working with Congress to pass this essential tool to help the industry address its workforce shortage.”
The National Restaurant Association said the foodservice industry is the nation’s second-largest private sector employer, behind health care, with a workforce of more than 14 million people in nearly 1 million eating and drinking establishments.
The association’s “State of the Restaurant Industry” report for 2022 surveyed operators and found about half of respondents expected recruiting and retention of employees to be their top challenge this year.
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